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God-damned explanations

india Updated: May 31, 2008 23:05 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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Last week, as I slowly uncrossed my legs and slowly crossed them back again — resulting in my morning tub of coffee nearly spilling on yet another uninsured part of my body — I read the remarks made by the fourth reincarnation of Mae West, Sharon Stone, at the Cannes Film Festival to a Hong Kong TV channel that was subsequently aired on YouTube. “I’m not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else.” So far so Mia Farrow-ish. And then: “...this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? Is it when you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?”

Well, French luxury house Dior doesn’t quite take to the basic instinct of humans looking for a divine cause for rotten things. Try telling European fashion houses that the Holocaust happened because of Jehovah feeling neglected. So Dior’s anti-ageing cream ads featuring one of my favourite actresses are being pulled from China. Quite clearly, Stone’s gnostic remarks have upset more than Jackie Chan’s biggest fans. But another fashionista closer to town did share the Hollywood siren’s belief in divine retribution. When the earthquake that flattened Bihar on January 15, 1934, Mahatma Gandhi (who could have easily uttered the immortal lines from Basic Instinct as part of his non-violence package: “Killing isn’t like smoking. You can quit.”) had made it plain that the natural disaster was caused in retaliation to “India’s sin” in upholding untouchability. If you were nicer to Harijans, the man had pretty much said, this wouldn’t have happened.

While Christian Dior was busy doing his bit to save his father’s art gallery and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night won the Best Film Oscar that year, it was left to Rabindranath Tagore, in his bearded Christopher Hitchens avatar, to pummell the Mahatma for his ‘sins-lead-to-earthquake’ theory. “We.... feel profoundly hurt,” said Tagore, “when any words from his mouth may emphasise the elements of unreason in those very minds — unreason, which is a fundamental source of all the blind powers that drive us against freedom and self-respect.” The Mahatma reacted by blubbering out something about the earthquake being “no caprice of God, nor a result of a meeting of mere blind forces. We do not know all the laws of God, nor their working”.

Sharon Stone’s ‘bad karma’ theory is Gandhi’s ‘God-damned’ theory. While people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can get away with such ‘chaos theory for nuts’ — er, he’s a Moslem from Eye-ran — T-bone steak evangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson get run down for blaming the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America on “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make an alternative lifestyle”. Closer at home again, there are the likes of David Manoraj, pastor and leading member of India’s largest church in Chennai, who are convinced that the Republic Day earthquake in Gujarat in 2001 was a divine blowback for ‘anti-conversion’ moves made in the state. Manoraj even insists that the cyclone that devastated Orissa in October 1999 was in retaliation of the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons by Hindu fanatics nine months before. (“[It] was a clear answer from the Christian God, demonstrating that he does not passively accept everything which is done to his church.”)

In the meantime, Sharon Stone has apologised for the earthquake-for-being-bad-to-Tibetans comment she made while wearing a mock tiger skin dress. (The mock tiger had it coming from the God of mock tigers.) And those of us who believe that natural disasters have a natural cause — like Deepika set to marry Ranbir because she likes him and not because Yuvraj, the devout Shaivite, seeks vengeance — we can rest. As for why such column space is given to my Aristeetotalitarian thoughts every Sunday, it’s not your bad karma that’s responsible; the explanation is totally rational: you, gentle reader, get only what you deserve.